HUNTSVILLE, ALA.: The Army keeps putting more powerful lasers on smaller vehicles. Battlefield lasers in testing today can shoot down snooping quadcopters and other small drones. By the early 2020s, however vehicles mobile enough to keep up with combat brigades – Strykers and FMTV trucks – will have power in the 50 to 100 kilowatt range. That’s enough not only to kill drones in less time and at longer ranges than today, but also to stop incoming rockets, artillery shells, and mortar rounds.
Army lasers are advancing on two fronts, said Adam Aberle, who heads high energy laser development and demonstration at the Space & Missile Defense Command. Lower-powered lasers go on eight-wheel drive armored vehicles called Strykers. Higher-powered ones go on converted cargo trucks, which have no armor and worse off-road performance than Strykers, but a lot more room.
In 2021, the service will test a 50 kilowatt weapon, the Multi-Mission High Energy Laser, on a Stryker. That’s five times the power of the 10 kW laser being installed on a Stryker for testing this November – which is itself double the 5 kW laser tested on a Stryker this March and five times the 2 kW tested last year. All these lasers are compact enough that the Strykers can still carry gear and troops for other battlefield tasks (hence “multi-mission”), a big plus for combat units. The 50 kW laser is a potential candidate for the Army’s Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (MSHORAD), effort, which needs vehicles that can move and fight alongside frontline forces.
The Army is putting heavier lasers on cargo trucks. Eventually, such vehicles might be part of the Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC), a truck-mounted system designed to set up behind the front line and defend large areas against incoming fire. In 2022, the Army will test a 100 kW laser on a truck, the High-Energy Laser Tactical…